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point of our probation, whether we will in SERM such darkness of understanding, and fo VII. many temptations from without, and from our own infirmities, make religion and vir tue our chief business; and labour above all things to maintain our integrity, or keep consciences void of offence. Every man who thus employs himself will find indeed, that his labour is not in vain; that he has sufficient encouragement to hold on his righteous way, and his work carries its own reward along with it, in the growing vigour of fpirit and rational satisfaction which accompanies it; but at the same time he will find full employment for all the best capacities of his soul, and that the working out his . falvation, and making his calling and ele&tion sure, requires all diligence with the utmost care and circumspection. 3. The scripture representations of a religious life are very instructive to this purpose, for the precepts of the gospel and the examples which are propos'd to our imitation, Thew, that we must run and strive, and fight, having violent opposition to struggle with, and many difficulties to make our way through. We wrestle with flesh and blood, with flesh which warreth against the
SERM. fpirit, and is the fource and occafion of the
but it is not only flesh and blood, but princi.
gu To confider the reasonableness and ne-SER:M. ceflity of our exercising ourselves therein to VII. kave always cal confcience void of offence.com But this I hope, sufficiently appears from what has been already said ; indeed it is obvious to any one who will attend to it, and to deny it, is, in effect, to deny any such thing as moral obligations on the human mind. For the foundation of all virtue is the sense which every man feels in his own heart of the difference between right and wrong, or good and evil ; the foundation of religion is an inward persuasion of the difference between what God requires and what he forbids us to do. To act virtuously, therefore, is to act according to that sense and approbation of our own minds; to act viciously, is to act in opposition to it. To act religiously, is to conform our practice to what we believe to be the will of God, to act irreligiously, is directly the contrary: What, thens is virtue and religion, but to have a conscience void of offence? And what is it to exercise ourselves herein, but to make virtue and religion ftill our study, and still endeavour to practise it, from a conviction that we are always in danger of coming short of it thro!
weakness OT 4
SERM.weakness and temptation, and that we are VII. in our present state imperfect.
· The conduct of many, even christians, is quite otherwise ; they follow every appetite, every inclination they find in their nature, or propensity they have contracted by custom and habit, without regard to conscience, or without examining whether it be agreeable to it or disagreeable. And tho' it is not in their power altogether to silence that monitor within themselves, yet the severity of its rebukes is known to abate by a customary trefpassing against it ; nay, it becomes numm'd and insensible, as it were, according to the apostle's expression, feared with an bot iron. Studied amusements, and the pleasures of fin, divert its admonitions. Besides, methods are invented whereby finners deceive themselves, reconciling their sinful courses, obstinately persisted in, to the hope of acceptance with God; equivalents are put in the place of religious integrity and obedience : to the moral precepts of God: great diligence in fulfilling one commandment must answer for defects in another; and, particularly, great strictness in observing some pofitive institutions, compensates for moral im- :purity, oppression, fraud, or unmercifulness.
Thus the ancient Jews, in the days of the SERM : prophets Isaah and Jeremiah, were guilty of VII. heinous wickedness, or perverting judgment, grinding the faces of the poor, nay, their hands were full of blood, and yet they had great confidence in the temple of the Lord, and their religious respect to the new moons, fabbaths, or other folemnities. And so, in our Saviour's time, the Pharisees were a perverse and untoward generation, who appear’d righteous before men, but within were full of hypocrify and iniquity; they in the mean time trusted in a negative righteousness and some external performances. * I am not an. extortioner, nor an adulterer, nor like this publican, was the religion of the Pharifee and the foundation of his hope, with the addition of mere outward observances; I. . faft twice in the week, and pay tythes of all 1 poffefs. This is not to have a conscience void of offence, but to substitute fomething else instead of it. In like manner, some christians deceive themselves, imagining that a zeal for the purity of their profession, diligence in attending the positive appointments of the gospel, ,ineffectual purposes of a future amendment, or a presumptuous reliance
on * Luke xviii, 11, 12.